Imagine coming home to a forest-like enclave where lush green foliage cascades like a botanic waterfall, creating a cool, fresh ambience in summer and relaxing backdrop all year round. Or do you dream of stepping into a home that sits at optimum temperature whatever the weather, yet barely draws on artificial heating and cooling? These are just some of the attributes driving the growing popularity of green walls, facades and roofs.
In a recent interview with Australian Design Review, Mark Paul, Director of The Greenwall Company, attributed a burgeoning interest in garden architectural features to the increase in research supporting the benefits of greenwalls and green roofs to both health and the environment. “[It] has boosted the awareness of greenwalls and has given people a reason to investigate them further beyond just their aesthetic appeal. People like to be surrounded by greenery as it softens and adds life to the built environment.”
‘Green wall’, ‘green façade’ or ‘vertical garden’
Depending on who you ask, green walls, green facades and vertical gardens can mean slightly different things. In general though, a green wall sees the plants growing directly on the wall – often in soilless growing media. These can be quite complex and heavy, especially since the weight of plants and water needs to be taken into account. Conversely, a green façade usually involves plants – especially vines and climbers – growing from pots or directly from the ground up. Pots can be elevated along apartment facades, or situated on the ground. Whilst often less dense than green walls, the green façade is typically easier to introduce to an established home. The vertical garden is a bit of a catch-all phrase, but often refers to modular systems that can be free-standing or fixed to a wall (again be careful with load and weight when wet), and can include most pot-suitable plants from ferns to flowers and even vegetables.
When you’re blessed with a flat or slightly pitched roof, an elevated garden can deliver not only additional outdoor space upon which to relax and unwind, but also provide the most natural form of insulation possible – earth. Grown in soil placed over a waterproof lining, roof gardens can be found crowning inner city developments, private homes and even Parliament House in Canberra. Naturally, structural considerations need to be taken into account before adding a few hundred kilos of soil, plants and water to your roof, but, when constructed correctly, the effect can be awe-inspiring.
The health and wellbeing benefits of living with plants have been known for centuries. In Japan and Korea where forest immersion has a name - Shinrin-yoku – the benefits have even been studied clinically. But even without the scientific data, sit for a few minutes surrounded by the visual and aromatic beauty of a wall of fresh foliage and most of us will undoubtedly feel more relaxed and at ease. Plants not only help freshen the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, but the essential oils known as phytoncides can improve focus, boost your immune system and calm the soul. An entire wall of plants elicits a sense of seclusion, mystery, movement and paradise.
Plan for Growth
The choice of plant is important, and before heading off to the nursery, you’ll want to consider the amount of light (direct, filtered and reflected) that your green space will receive, as well as the accessibility for pruning, trellising and fertilising. Also consider water run-off. While this is not such a big issue with plants rooted directly into the ground, overflow from elevated pots hanging off apartment balcony can lead to a few terse words from those who receive an unexpected shower below.
With the growing popularity of vertical gardens, a host of options are available for small scale projects, with most major garden centres and hardware stores selling a range of modular, free-standing or wall-mounted systems that can grow with your plants.For larger gardens, especially where the load bearing capabilities of a wall or roof could be an issue, it’s important to get professional advice – however, again, thanks to the keen interest in these beautiful, living architectural features, and their appearance on home renovation shows, a quick online search will bring up a wide choice of specialists to transform an standard wall or unused roof into a stunning botanic showcase that can can reduce power bills, elevate the spirits, and add to the value of your home.